Concrete Plans

In addition to being one of the major players in infrastructure in Australia, Hanson is one of, if not, the largest customer of Mack Trucks. The recent purchase of 15 new Metro-Liners for its Queensland operations renews its long-term investments in commercial vehicles and reinforces its ongoing commitment to safety technology in the agitator application.

“Every time you move a heavy vehicle in a metro area there’s a risk attached,” says Scott Barber.

The Hanson National Fleet Engineer & Maintenance Manager oversees one of the biggest Mack fleets in the country and understands the value of safety requirements on cumbersome heavy vehicles involved in vocational activity in which drivers, en route to commercial construction sites, contend with all manner of city activity while commanding 30 plus tonnes of kit made unique by the huge spinning bowl on the back of the body.

For decades the concrete segment has relied on the driver and the driver’s skill to navigate roads and bends. Increasingly, at least for Hanson, where its majority of contracts involve commercial construction and large infrastructure projects, this will entail operating in high density metropolitan areas and frequently the central business districts of major cities.

“Sometimes we think we can take a corner a little bit faster than we possibly should in some of these big rigs and this is where the roll stability comes into its own,” Scott says.

“It actually intervenes and starts applying brakes, giving the driver an indicator that they probably should have applied the brake five metres back rather than when they started. That’s where roll stability starts mitigating those events of, say, a driver going a couple of kilometres an hour faster into a corner and putting them at that higher level risk of rollover.”

In recent years Mack has introduced a Bendix Wingman Fusion safety pack to the Metro-Liner, making it a compelling offering in the agitator space. The Electronic Stability System is an indispensable safety feature for Hanson, whose investment includes the optional Road Stability Advantage rollover prevention.

All Hanson Mack vehicles have BlindSpotter safety function.

Through advanced monitoring of vehicle control, the automatic and selective application of vehicle brakes serve as a counter measure to inhibit sudden understeer, skidding and stabilises the vehicle in slippery conditions.

According to Scott the advances made in roll stability innovation have been one of the biggest benefits to his operational requirements.

“As agitators have a very high bowl on the back there’s a high risk of rollovers certainly when moving around corners and at sharp angles as is the nature of where these trucks are moved,” he says. “Certainly the roll stability is key for us in trying to minimise the events that could cause a truck to rollover.”

Hanson specifies an 8×4 wheelbase configuration for its national operations in which it now runs over 320 Mack agitators. The lower centre of gravity is another advantage for carrying a hefty concrete mixing bowl on the back.

This of course presents challenges for weight bearing and visibility for the driver as a redundant rear vision mirror is no longer present in the cab. To this end, the BlindSpotter function, a more recent addition to the safety pack, using radar technology, provides operators with an even wider field of view to mitigate against sideswipe impacts.

When the newer safety features on the Metro-Liners were first rolled out 18 months ago many of Hanson’s agitator drivers required a period of adjustment. The driver program prompted heavy consultation with operators to outline the advantages of the safety packs and explain in detail how the various safety components individually worked.

As Optional Road Stability Advantage had been deployed earlier in Hanson’s tipper fleet, which is over 400 units strong, it helped to institute a holistic approach for upskilling drivers and modifying long ingrained behaviors that would need to be relearned.

“It helps when your drivers are very positive about the safety inclusions we are putting in our trucks,” Scott says.

“Particularly the roll stability stuff. We certainly took notice of comments from our drivers early in the piece when they didn’t realise they should have been applying the brakes, for instance, two metres before they did apply the brakes and it now made more sense to them.”

For Hanson, the philosophy is simple. The company wants to operate the safest fleet possible. Not only, as a business, to prevent incidents and reduce costs but to ensure its staff return home safely to their families after a day at work.

It extends this overarching principle to general day-to-day road users.

Mack’s FXL 14.6 Twin Steer Axle is rated to 13.2 tonnes.

In December Hanson introduced six new Mack Metro-Liners into its Brisbane services, with another nine on the way as part of its fleet replacement management.

“It’s mandatory now on our truck specification for all trucks to have the blindspot feature. Our focus is on the available safety gear that’s out there that can come fitted with these trucks from the OEM,” Scott explains. “Because the bulk of our fleet operates in metro areas the BlindSpotter function gives us that other key safety benefit of alerting the driver when they may not be able to see something in the mirrors and it’s right beside them before they navigate a turn or lane change.”

When it goes out to market for tender, Hanson requests OEMs provide any details on additional safety options that have become available for consideration as part of its commercial vehicle specification.

“The more safety gear that comes out on trucks the more of it we will take essentially,” Scott says. “Certain key safety components are potentially precluding some operators in the market but some of the manufacturers are starting to get up to speed as well, which is really pleasing. I think it was an undervalued component within our industry and now it’s something with as much focus as the car industry.”

The Mack Metro-Liner driveline consists of an 8.9 litre 320 hp Cummins ISL rated to 996lb-ft torque at a range of 1100-1500 rpm and an Allison 3200 Series six-speed automatic transmission.

Mack also provides the FXL 14.6 Twin Steer Axle rated to 13.2 tonnes which is paired with a Meritor RT40-145GP rear axle with a nominal capacity of 18 tonnes. Keeping down the tare weight in such an application is naturally a big advantage and Mack have helped achieve this, to Hanson’s satisfaction, by removing the bowl sub-frame and mounting the bowl to the chassis.

“Over the last three years we’ve been working with the Volvo Group and various body builders to look at lowering the centre of gravity on the mixer bowl just to help with that roll stability,” says Scott. “One of the good things about Mack and our relationship with them is they’re willing to be a key party in those discussions and work with the body builders to see what’s achievable. Over the last couple of years all of our concrete agitators have been deployed with a low centre of gravity mixer bowl on the back of them.”

A long history exists between the two companies across both of Hanson’s fleet lines. Mack is the brand of preference in their tipper spec as well. Although the company previously purchased agitators in a 6×4 configuration it moved to 8×4 for improved safety and the ability to operate with a higher payload.

The business will deliver to all customers, predominantly major construction sites and in the tipper space the vehicles will move high volumes of road base and materials throughout the state.

With that in mind, the aim is to find the maximum carrying capacity allowable in a truck at any given time. The key for operating dozens of concrete agitators nationally, is to reduce the number of trips each truck is assigned.

Cumulative hours of operation can be brutal over such an extended vehicle life.

Mack reliability and uptime legacy is, however, an area in which Scott claims the Volvo Group excels in.

“Their aftersales support is second-to-none. I’m not just talking about aftersales while the truck is under warranty,” he says.

“They’re there to help us throughout the journey through the life of the truck, essentially. So there is no issue too big or too small that I don’t feel uncomfortable in reaching out to National Account Manager Luke Barnes and discussing. If we have an engine blown in say a nine-year old truck they’ll help us understand why that happened and in some cases they will actually help us fund the repairs to a percentage on even a truck that is old if it’s an unexpected failure. So they really do have good aftersales support and customer commitment.”

This latest order of 15 Metro-Liners reflects, in part, a growing confidence across key industries, perhaps obliged to forestall significant fleet investments just six months ago under the shadow of deteriorating global economic conditions.

With that in mind, the decision by National Cabinet to agree that Infrastructure Australia should evaluate project proposals which require more than $250 million in Commonwealth funding – an increase from the previous threshold of $100 million – will help determine the efficiency of infrastructure decision-making and delivery.

Mack Metro-Liner in Brisbane.

The ripple effects of such an announcement are likely to support a host of driver jobs in the concrete and construction sector.

Scott, who has been at Hanson for just over 20 years, might be considered an institution at many other companies. At Hanson, it seems, longevity is not the exception to the rule, but the rule.

“We promote a 20-year club meaning if you hit 20 years here you’re part of an alumni and that’s a very big club within our company,” he laughs. “That says a lot about the company itself. People will stick around if it’s a good company to work for.”

According to Scott there are many staff who have been working at Hanson for 35 years or more. For his part, he started out in the IT department having worked at a foundry as a metallurgist previously.

The need for a lifestyle change saw him crossover into IT, supporting the building products division at Hanson. He was soon supporting the three head offices in Queensland in IT before moving into project work. The opportunity to take on a telematics project saw him transfer to logistics where he has been for the last seven years.

In two decades at Hanson he’s been afforded myriad vantages from which to observe and involve himself in the varying facets of the organisation.

“Interestingly, my story is probably not too dissimilar to a lot of people inside our business who start out in one area and move to another and get a really good understanding of the business as a whole which is good,” Scott says.

“I think it gives us an advantage that our work force truly understands the business to a greater extent than just being a solo part of the business for 20 years and not seeing the other sides of it.”